The End

December 30, 2020

My brother is the only remnant of my childhood left.

The parents who raised us are dead. Relatives live who have met us or known us to some insignificant degree, but no one knows us like we know each other.

Try to imagine who in your life knows all your stories, your weaknesses, and understands you utterly. If you’re honest with yourself, and them, you can probably count them on one hand.

My brother’s problems have been the one constant in my life.

My last conversation with him was fraught with mentions of people he believes will handle things; people who he considers friends.

“Jeff will take care of that.”

His response when I tell him that if he dies, the debt collectors will come for his wife and kids.

Jeff, whoever you are, I hope you understand he thinks you will abide.

“My friend [whoever] killed himself and his family still collected insurance.”

“You don’t have insurance,” I remind him.

I had determined not to be his wake-up call that morning. I wouldn’t remind him of his 9:30 AA Zoom either.

When you hit rock bottom because you’ve made bad choices, and someone takes away your choices, you’re letting them decide your fate. You’re letting them do all the work. You’re off the hook. My sober friend told me to remember that as an alcoholic, he doesn’t have a choice.

I know I’m supposed to accept this, and I respect every ounce of her beliefs, but this one is just too much for me. We always have choices, even if they are all terrible. My final choice for him was breakfast, which waited outside the door as he finally roused and showered around 9:20AM.

My dead mother always said pho could heal broken bones. I hope it heals a broken will.

At 11AM he is in my living room, dressed well in a clean shirt, jeans, and his favorite shiny boots. He looks fantastic, with his armor of artifice intact. He wants to go home, as he has threatened many times over the last two weeks, whenever I ask just a little too much from him. I always protest, assure him he is safer here, and that he needs rest.

On this day, I simply say, “OK.”

He is not expecting it.

Quietly, he says, “I’ll pack up in a minute. I just can’t breathe well…can’t catch my breath.”

“OK.”

“It may take me a couple of trips to get my bags to the car.”

“OK. I’ll pack you some food.”

“I’m sure I have some food at home I just…need a minute.”

I pack a bag of frozen shrimp and noodles and meatballs and tiny hot red chili peppers.

We are silent for a long time.

“You missed your AA zoom at 9:30. You need a meeting every day. And if you start drinking again, there are residential rehab programs…the VA…”

“HOW CAN I PAY FOR THAT!?! I NEED TO FIND A JOB TO MAKE MONEY FOR THE KIDS!”

I quietly remind him of the obvious, that this is precisely what should motivate him not to drink. And I tell him I believe in him.

After the car is packed, he hugs me awkwardly and says he’ll call when he gets home.

“You don’t have to.”

“Fine, then I won’t.”

I look around the room he has occupied for the better part of two weeks. He left the space heater on. And he forgot his meds.

It has been 9 days since my last confession.

I’ve been thinking about that scene in The Dark Knight Rises, when Bruce Wayne escapes the pit. When I saw it in the theater, I had only one immediate reaction: safety nets are dangerous because they are distractions, and not only from the invaluable fear of failure. They distract us from focus.

Only when Bruce Wayne forewent the rope, did he jump hard enough to make it to the other side. Only when he knew that another option was unacceptable.

I think my brother’s problems have been my safety net, a distraction I could always depend on. I left my perfect life in Chicago 3 years ago to come home and help.

I’m changing my phone number and disconnecting Facebook.

Because my help is not helping.

Day 4: Choices, part two

December 29, 2020

When my mother knew she was dying, she asked her sister to take care of my brother. She knew I would be fine, my aunt told me recently, but she feared for him.

I begged her to come to me in a dream last night, and tell me what to do.

She didn’t.

She never ever has.

Maybe she thinks I don’t need it.

At 3ish yesterday, my brother came down with dirty dishes, and to tell me the tow yard was only 4 miles away. The proprietor said if he came by 4:30, he would knock off $200 from the fee.

So excited to have his car back for only $400, he looked at me expectantly.

“You don’t need a car unless you’re going home.”

“But if I don’t get it now, they’ll keep charging…If I go home, the store with beer is a quick walk away and I feel stronger here.”

I don’t think these two statements were made in rapid succession, but they are the only ones I heard.

We arrived at the tow shop in the bad part of town at about 3:20. When he went to the window, I noticed he had a gaping hole in his unnaturally baggy sweatpants, right where you don’t want one.

“They need cash. Let’s go to a bank and I can get an advance on my credit card.”

I am beyond protesting. Beyond reasoning. I am on autopilot and peace is within reach.

I drove him 2 miles to the nearest bank, which turned out to be his. He has (again) borrowed money from one of those high-interest cash advance places based on who-knows-what. A car title? I wonder if he hoped he’d die before paying it back.

We started back to the tow shop and he realized he didn’t have his keys. We drove a mile back to my house, then started over again. He pleaded by phone for the proprietor to please stay open until we arrived.

“Is this worth it to you? To keep me from the work I need to do?”

I didn’t listen to his justifications about having no other choice. I didn’t speak again.

His car has a perpetual flat tire but he is prepared with an air pump.

“It’ll take 10-15 minutes to fill. Can you drive behind me so a cop doesn’t see my expired tags?”

I watch him weave in the lane, favoring the center and forcing cars to adjust to the intrusion into their space. I hope he doesn’t kill someone someday.

Safe at my home, he sighs the sigh of a contented man.

“Thank you for pushing me” he says, and retires for the night.

I wake at 5 every morning to work out and then to be silent while the sun rises. Today, I stared at my Christmas tree, which has been up since October 14th. I needed joy this year, but I feel none today.

I think only of his statement yesterday. The beer store is so close and he feels stronger here. It’s a threat, isn’t it? If I don’t let him stay, he will drink and it will be my fault. But if I am the thing keeping him from beer, then he doesn’t need to work at all on why he wants it, or choosing to not drink it.

I think of his choice to retrieve a car he doesn’t need with funds he hasn’t earned.

I think of the time I lost yesterday indulging his whim, adjusting to his intrusion into my life like all those cars forced aside. But no one forced me.

His AA zoom was at 9:30 and I determined not to wake him this time.

At 9:15 I heard the shower and left food at the door.

No zoom at 9:30.

But the TV is blaring.

I tear down my Christmas tree in preparation for what’s to come.

Day 4: Choices, part one

December 29, 2020

“Come on, man, you gotta lighten up.”

He said this to me at 3pm yesterday, and I knew I was finished with this. All of it.

At 8am, I called him to wake up and eat. His AA zoom would be at 9:30, and I had a dozen urgent neglected work deadlines, I explained, so he has to wake up and eat now. I’m grateful he doesn’t argue.

Today will be the first day we leave my home to run errands and go to his shabby apartment for supplies.

I have resolved to give him a week but he must complete two tasks today since it’s a holiday week. New Years will eat two whole business days so he must call to find out where his car was towed, and start the application for medical disability online.

These are simple tasks. He doesn’t need his car and can’t afford to retrieve it, but he has insisted and I understand the need to feel independent, in control. The least I can do is turn it into a bite-sized step. Just find out where it is.

At 10:30 he is fed, zoomed, showered, and downstairs ready to go. A sign of initiative, I believe.

“Can you go by the house to pick up my mail? I need my new license.”

The house is where his family lives. He left his wife and children about 4 years ago. He would say they kicked him out but in truth, they gave him a choice: quit drinking or leave. He left.

“No, I’ll drive you but you have to get it.”

He dissolved in front of me.

“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t!” He shakes and cries. “I’ll just tell her to mail them to me and I’ll go home today.”

Manipulation.

“You don’t get to make more work FOR HER.”

More resistance but desperate and terrified, like a trapped animal.

His wife agrees to put the mail in the mailbox and I agree to pick it up with my driver’s side facing the house. He is appeased but I am seething. I know I should have made him go to the door, but I couldn’t bear the children seeing him, a wraith somewhat reminiscent of their dad.

It feels so good to be out in the sunshine, windows open with fresh air blowing the desperation off of us.

He packs two bags and hauls then up and down a steep hill, and I marvel at his strength. He shuffles my halls like a wilting weed in a rainstorm. He makes several trips and is winded and sweaty, but vigorous.

We go grocery shopping at the Asian Costco, which he has never seen even though he’s lived here most of his life.

“I don’t come to this side of town…” he mutters.

He leans heavily on the cart and delights at all the fresh produce, the cheap head-on shrimp, the endless exotic pickled kimchi snacks of our childhood. I almost recognize my brother again.

Errands completed, we head back to my house and he tries to unload his bags.

“I’ll do that, you have two tasks to complete to earn today.”

“What tasks?” He is instantly livid.

“Find out where your car is and…”

“I told you I KNOW where it is! B&G Towing!”

“Where’s that?”

Silence.

“How much will it cost? How much do they charge per day.”

“Come on, man, you gotta lighten up.”

Inside my bones, I recognize the almost imperceptible shift. There’s always a moment when I’m done. When I hit the wall and decide to stop whatever I am doing that is causing me discomfort. I love this feeling. It’s a sacred certainty I seldom feel or achieve. I have made my choice.

He knows too. He follows me in the house and goes straight upstairs. I hear him making calls.

When he emerges with dirty dishes caked in dried yolk and wasted bacon, he approaches me cautiously and waits.

“Don’t ever fucking say lighten up in this house again.” I can taste bile.

But at least it’s done, this day, I foolishly believe, but it has only just begun.

Day 3: Protein

December 27, 2020

Last night was a rough one.

He hadn’t stirred all day except for his AA zoom and to eat.

I checked on him before bed and he was weeping.

“I have to tell you something.”

I braced for an earthquake.

He was in severe pain, he said, in his back and he was afraid.

I asked what the doctor said about complications and he shrugged.

I spied an unopened manila envelope in the corner and tore it apart. In it, were detailed instructions to eat high protein meals and to be alarmed by back pain or breathing issues.

I lost my shit.

He hadn’t even read his user manual. Why should he? Someone else will deal with it. Someone else always does.

I was fortunate to recognize my codependent inclinations young, when at 20, my much older friend always needed me and I loved it. I recall her minor children calling me and asking for food because their mom was out partying. I raced over with burgers and beamed with pride that I had been available and accessible and willing to help. Congratulations me!

I thought I had curbed these tendencies and cut so much dead wood from my life. But the desire never truly leaves us.

As I brought him this high protein breakfast today, I thought about whether I’m helping him at all.

I believe he is capable of surviving, but I don’t believe he will do what is necessary to get a job or keep a job. Or go to rehab. Or shower.

I asked him what time was today’s AA zoom.

“They’re taking a break today.”

Did he think I wasn’t the one who sent him the schedule? Or that I didn’t already know the answer to my question?

“That group maybe, but be on the one at noon.”

A sober friend told me to cut him loose. She said when she called her parents to tell them she was finally going to rehab, her father said, “Good for you. I hope it works out.” And he hung up. (Her dad has been sober since ’75)

It is not my job to create this structure, or to bring him protein.

A protein’s overall function is dependent on its structure, which folds and twists on itself based on interaction. Hemoglobin, for example, could not carry oxygen to the blood without the structure of a complex protein.

Codependency is a complex protein.

Day 2 – Forgetting.

December 26, 2020

After 2 full days, my brother was released from the confines of the hospital, restraints (combative with nurses), and covid exposure. He claims they wouldn’t let him go to the bathroom. They have a different version of the story. He forgets people can compare notes.

I’m terrified of even getting a cold, and now I wear 3 masks and gloves in my own house.

He is quarantined in my extra bedroom with a private bathroom and concierge service. For the first day, he kept wandering downstairs without his mask to ask me questions he could easily text. Once, he got ice before I could stop him and I wondered how to disinfect a freezer full of food. I remind myself he can’t remember the rules yet, such is his diminished capacity.

Today has been better. No threats required for his 2nd AA zoom. Tiny successes. But everything else he forgets.

“Stay upstairs.”

“Take your meds.”

“Leave your dishes outside the door.”

“Wear your mask as if you care what happens to me.”

It must be horrible to be treated this way. To be a grown man spoken to like an infant. Dependent on a sister you never particularly liked.

But he’ll forget. He once told me he wished Ted and Robin had gotten together on How I Met Your Mother. When I told him they did indeed end up together, he laughed, “That’s what you get for being drunk for 3 years.”

I love when people say, “he loves you so much and always brags about you.” Artifice. Posturing. The worst things anyone has ever said to me were from him when drunk; when the truth emerges.

“But that’s just the disease!” you all chorus.

No, that was long before The Disease. I know the truth.

I do not have the luxury of forgetting.

I text my brother who is quarantining in my spare bedroom, “Time to wake up.”

It’s 8:30AM on Christmas Day.

Not a stir through the floorboards.

I call and let it ring that ridiculous, shrill tune of his until his broken voice breaks through. I don’t understand the word he mutters.

“There’s a zoom AA meeting called “Starting Over” at 9:30AM and you have to be on it or you can go home and try to do this alone.”

More garbled sounds.

“This is the only thing you have to do today,” I threaten “to earn today. Then you can sleep and eat and piss and shit and sleep. It couldn’t be easier.”

Finally some audible sense emerges: “On Christmas Day?”

“I won’t even listen in and you can lie to them all you want, but if you want to live here today, you have 30 minutes to earn it.”

After more threats, he reluctantly agrees.

I hear him stir.

I hear the sounds of life.

A wasted life.

I’m so angry with him, I can barely breathe. I don’t want to help him. It’d been a peaceful year without a word from, or about him before last week when his neighbor and a separate friend started messaging me their worries. I don’t mind admitting that I did not want to respond. I’m not a savior or a hero or even a particularly nice person when I’ve lost all respect for a human.

But my dead mother loved him beyond the comprehension of this childless woman, and I loved her, so I picked him up Sunday to let him dry out a bit at my house. Perhaps watching old movies and eating hot food would get him lucid and eager to live a normal life again, for a little while.

I’m no savior but I am a fool.

His first seizure hit at 6pm on Monday.

I knew nothing of alcohol withdrawal seizures save for what I’ve seen depicted on tv or in movies. I always recoiled at the weakness of the alcoholic and the foolishness of the person watching in horror.

I now know it’s the worst thing I will ever see.

I held him like I loved him again, and wiped the blood dripping down his chin from the tongue gash. His dental partials had come loose and he almost swallowed one. He emerged slowly to become a baby, fists curled into his chest and open eyes seeing nothing at all. He made sounds so gutteral, and shook so violently, I screamed.

And then he was calm. And normal again.

He didn’t remember anything, and he willingly took some water in. I asked him if he wanted to go to the ER but he begged me not to worry. He felt better.

His second, and much worse, seizure happened at 11pm and I called 911. You can imagine all the rest.

I felt free when they took him away, but it was only the beginning. Now I am trapped, as he enjoys my house and its warmth, my food, my soap, and my time. I’ve never resented anyone more in my life. It gives me no pride to write this but I have to, or else I’m as guilty of lying to myself as I admonish him for being.

I can hear the sounds of a zoom chat going on upstairs, and I feel pride in my threat for motivating him. Maybe this time, he will try to get better.

Or maybe I’m just counting the seconds until I can take him home and feel satisfied that I did everything I can, and I can be free of him forever.

I resent him for his disease and his weakness, and I’m so proud of my strength and willingness to let him die.

I don’t know which of us is worse.

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